Belfast Telegraph

Revealed: Community halls to benefit from Paul Givan £1.9m funding boost

DUP MLA Paul Givan is at the centre of a new funding row over £1.9million given out in a community hall grants scheme.

As the political fallout at Stormont continues and we head towards an election, another political controversy has emerged.

Sunday Life has obtained the document listing the 90 groups set to benefit from the £1.9m scheme and can today reveal the list of organisations who have benefited from the grant.

The list includes 35 loyal order lodges and bands — including £25,000 to Brookeborough LOL in Fermanagh — as well as a range of other cultural, religious and sporting groups. The funding was initially earmarked for £500,000.

<<< Read the full list here >>

On Friday, Mr Givan said the programme was “hugely oversubscribed” with more than 850 applications received by his department.

The latest row looks set to destroy any faint hopes of the DUP and Sinn Fein reaching an agreement before tomorrow’s 5pm deadline to avoid an election.

The parties are at a stalemate over the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) debacle with DUP leader Arlene Foster refusing Sinn Fein’s demand to stand aside without prejudice pending an inquiry into the botched scheme which she launched as Enterprise Minister.

West Belfast MLA Alex Maskey said of Mr Givan’s £1.9m payout list: “This looks like yet another example of blatant discrimination and the DUP’s contempt for the wider public.

“There was mounting concern about why Paul Givan’s community hall grants scheme had soared from half a million pounds to almost two millions pounds.

“Clearly these public funds have been significantly directed at one section of the community.

“This is a flagrant abuse of public money and this minister’s contempt for the public knows no bounds.”

More: Full list: Northern Ireland community halls to receive share of £1.9m fund

Last week Sinn Fein party leader Gerry Adams described Mr Givan as an “ignoramus” after it emerged that he had cut Liofa Irish language bursary funds by £50,000 a year which enabled more than 100 people a year to attend summer classes in the Donegal Gaeltacht.

Mr Givan reversed the Liofa funding decision days later after Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy First Minister bringing the Assembly to the point of collapse.

Last night Maskey claimed: “Public money should be used responsibly to address need rather than attempt to buy support in the wake of the RHI scandal. This only further undermines public confidence in the political institutions and the people must now be allowed to have their say on the DUP’s arrogance.”

But Mr Givan has stated that a “robust, transparent and accountable assessment process was followed.”

SDLP leader Colm Eastwood said his party had concerns from the time that this fund was opened.

“It seemed, at that stage, that the criteria meant that GAA clubs could not apply,” he said. “We were worried that the minister was trying to look after one community rather than the whole community.”

Only a couple of GAA clubs — Erin’s Own GAC Cargin and Clonduff GAC — are included in the list of groups which have benefited.

Among the groups celebrating last week were Kilcooley Women’s Centre in Bangor and Tildarg Orange Hall in Ballyclare —both posted photos on social media thanking Paul Givan (left) for their £25,000 bursaries.

Meanwhile, the DUP and Sinn Fein have until 5pm tomorrow to save the Assembly.

But last night a Sinn Fein official said the party was on an election footing and there was no hope of a deal.

If an agreement is not reached between the two parties to end the political stand-off created by the fallout from the RHI scandal then the Secretary of State James Brokenshire will be forced to call an election with a likely date being March 2.

Mrs Foster is due to be renominated as First Minister when the Assembly sits tomorrow.

 If Sinn Fein do not nominate an MLA for deputy First Minister then the Assembly will be dissolved and an election called. However, an election is not guaranteed to end the crisis and if the two parties cannot come to an agreement after a vote Mr Brokenshire indicated he could keep calling elections until the deadlock is resolved.

A plan to limit the cost of the Renewable Heat Incentive has been drafted by Economy Minister Simon Hamilton and is due to go before the Assembly for approval tomorrow.

It’s estimated that the total cost of the scheme to the Executive’s budget will be £490 million over the next 20 years.

If the proposed changes to the RHI scheme are voted through it will introduce a tiered payment system from April 1 this year but the new regulations will only be in place for one year. The new legislation will also cap payments to RHI users at 400,000 kW hours beyond which they will not receive any payment, in line with how the scheme operates in GB.

Last night TUV leader Jim Allister told Sunday Life he would vote in favour of the changes to the scheme but branded it a “face saving” exercise by the under fire DUP.

Mr Allister, who is a QC, also said it was likely the proposed changes would be challenged in court as a breach of contract between the government and RHI users.

“It’s pretty chancy I would have thought,” he said.

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